Vacations to locations like Washington, D.C. aren't cheap.
Our daughters came home from TeenPact (not an affiliate link), a hands-on leadership school for Christian students, in April 2013.
TeenPact's mission " is to train youth to understand the political process, value their liberty, defend their Christian faith, and engage the culture at a time in their lives when, typically, they do not care about such things."
Well, TeenPact's mission had a huge impact on Kelsi (15) and Brittany (13). When they arrived home, all they could talk about was making a trip to Washington, D.C. as a family!
Hey, girls, how do you want to finance this trip to D.C.? (Good question, right?)
This blog post is a bit lengthy, but I hope it will inspire you to come up with some great ways to help pay for a family vacation like this.
We began to brainstorm about how we could come up with additional funding to pay for a family "fieldtrip" to Washington, D.C. We're a single income (lower "middle class") family. We became debt free in July 2013, except for our house payment each month...but in our area, food budgets are quite high, especially for those who eat healthy, whole foods.
(To prove this, we spend more money each month on groceries/paper products/health-beauty products than we do on our house payment. Ouch. We also live in a low-income neighborhood, which may help explain why food is more expensive than our house payment. ☺)
I don't have a smart phone; I rarely buy things for myself. I only get highlights in my hair twice a year...sometimes, only once a year. My husband and I have purposefully lived frugal lives since we married 18 years ago, in order to enable me to stay at home with our children.
While we use a credit card for items on which we'll be reimbursed, like our church Awana ministry (my husband is the Awana Commander at our church), we generally pay cash for everything else.
Other than our annual winter trip to a beach house shared with my parents and some of my aunts and uncles, held in the winter because the rates are so much less expensive, and a 3-day trip to Seattle in October 2012 to stay with friends, we hadn't traveled with our girls since 2008 (five years ago).
Our ideas were:
How did things go? Well, we prayed about making this kind of trip. That was the best idea! If it wasn't within God's plan or will for us to make this trip, we didn't want to travel there.
If you know anything at all about me, you'll know right away that robbing a bank wasn't an option. At least, not for long!
I don't feel led by God to work outside of my home, other than a few days I work in the spring, and several times a year helping to provide homeschool testing in my county. The Lord has always taken care of our true needs without me having to go back into the full time workforce. I'm so grateful for that!
We looked at our budget, and found that while there wasn't a lot of wiggle room, there were a few things we could do. While this may not be popular with some families, we made these decisions:
I realize that some of you are already living as frugally as this, and still may not be able to find the funds to go on a trip to Washington, D.C.
We still didn't see how we could set aside enough money for four plane tickets, 7 nights of lodging in the D.C. area, food expenses, and entrance fees to some of the activities.
It was time for a garage sale!
I've heard some people say that it's not worth it to have garage sales. We hadn't held a garage sale for about 10 years, so we figured it was worth giving it a try.
Items that we no longer use are generally given away or donated on a regular basis to a local organization - because we don't like clutter, but we did have an attic that needed going through, as well as some closets and drawers.
It took us about two weeks to go through everything in our home, sort and bag small items, price everything, and set up our tables. We borrowed banquet tables and card tables from friends and relatives, and then spent a fair amount of time arranging items by type, in a visually appealing manner. We labeled items clearly and carefully, and we were willing to drop the prices except for two items (a very nice student guitar that was too small for our girls, and a child's bicycle, being sold at our garage sale for some friends of ours).
We bought four very large "garage sale" signs at Walmart so they would be highly visible, posting them on busy intersections near our house. These were under $5 for all four large, waterproof signs.
I spent a good 45 minutes very clearly writing out the dates/times of our two-day garage sale with a new black Sharpie pen, as well as drawing a black directional arrow on each sign, pointing in the direction of our house.
Hint: write large enough so that anyone driving by can quickly see the date, time, and address of your garage sale. If you're not sure how large to make your letters, write a few words on a piece of scratch paper, and hold it 20 feet back from someone else to see if they can clearly read it as they walk by.
I also advertised our garage sale on Facebook (to friends/family only), on Craigslist.com for our local area, and on our private local Yahoo group for homeschooling families.
We made homemade chocolate chip cookies, and sold those as well, keeping fresh plates of cookies on the table where people paid for their purchases. They ALL sold quickly. Woot!
Would you believe that those nickels and dimes added up quickly to end up paying for two plane tickets?
Elmer and I were able to purchase our round-trip plane tickets from the Oregon to Washington, D.C., thanks to our garage sale earnings.
We were so surprised!
In our minds, spending about 20 hours of combined time (including the garage sale itself) was entirely worth it. Wow! Several people mentioned to us that our garage sale was very organized and neat/clean. We think that helped us do as well as we did, although the full credit goes to God.
We also did something that some of you may find controversial.
We asked our girls to buy their own plane tickets.
The truth was, we figured out that even with all of our efforts, we wouldn't be able to buy all four plane tickets. At $380 per person ($1520 altogether), we knew that the girls were going to have to pitch in to help pay for their plane tickets.
My girls teach private music lessons after school, several days a week, so they saved their money for five months in order to help buy their plane tickets.
You may think that's cruel. They were willing to do this, and showed their dedication to the idea of a family trip to a historical city, by putting their money where their mouth is.
Over the next few months, my husband and I will probably pay them back for all but maybe $100 of the plane tickets. We wanted to know how dedicated they were to making this trip happen, and they showed us they were ready to make the commitment and to share the financial burden of the trip
We prayed for the Lord to show us some miraculous ways to help our trip become a possibility.
God tangibly provided extra funds in unusual ways:
There were other ways that money showed up, in smaller amounts. Every dollar counted! So we set the money aside, week by week, month by month.
We ended up with exactly what we needed to make this trip, debt-free. God is amazing!
Note: on our trip, we did use our credit card for all of our out-of-town purchases. However, we transferred the funds from our savings account to the VISA card as soon as we arrived back home. Well, okay, the next day - we were pretty exhausted the night we arrived home!
I'll summarize our fund-raising like this:
I'll be sharing useful tips on staying and eating frugally in D.C. in the weeks to come, so if you haven't signed up to receive my blog posts via email, please do. You'll find the email sign-up on the right hand side of this page, in the pink box.
Read all of my helpful tips about staying frugally in Washington, D.C.!
Hi! I'm Julieanne!